ONE ROCK, TIED WITH ROPE
I first saw one of these not long after I arrived in Japan. During a visit to Kyoto I was wandering through the beautiful garden at Katsura Rikyu and about to leave the main walk to follow a stone path toward a small but intriguing building when I noticed, perked right in the center of the first walkstone on the new path, an an impertinent little roundish rock, bound with black hemp rope!
Who would tie up a single rock, and why? What could be more pointless than binding the neverbound and placing it so whereverly? Staring at the little granite package, I wondered at the why of what, and other zenny matters-- the utter thereness of it, its arrant placefulness-- so irrational, yet so neatly done and so... cute!
In such an elegant surrounding! Just put there, without reason I could see, so oddly ineffectual, right where I was about to place my foot! So easy to bypass, I remarked as I stood there. Who would be so careless, yet so careful as to take the time to tie a rock around with a couple of loops of rope and put a neat a knot at the top? What could be more pointless? Or less pointful?
Who ties one rock with rope? And what do they know that I don't? The mind I call mine boggled. Which is the point, for a boggling mind; such a rock in such a place and time makes such a mind stop and wonder, even ponder; hopefully a thought will rise. How subtle an approach that is! No stabby bamboo fence, no wrought iron railing with spikes, no gargoyles, no big framed metal Keep Out signs or guards with pikes...
But still, who ties one rock with rope and puts it on a garden path? A traditional Japanese gardener, that's who. And there it was, before me. I hadn't known what the rock meant, yet I "knew." It did its job; it stopped me. Even though I didn't speak its language.
The stone is called a tome-ishi (lit: stop-stone).
There is more to understanding than we'll ever know.